The Walls Are Closing In

I had an anxiety attack on Sunday. It was in broad daylight in a crowded place. It was the middle of the day. This has not happened to me in a very long time. I spent most of the summer fighting through crippling anxiety attacks, but they all happened at night in my own bed. I was safe in the daylight, darkness was the problem. This is a troubling turn of events.

Maybe it was an isolated event. I have written here in the past about being an empath and the weight of current events has crushed me. Maybe the volume was just turned up from too much emotion. I happened to have a talk therapy session scheduled for Monday and I told him the story. I was waiting in line with my wife and child to see Santa. I had not been feeling well physically for a couple days, undoubtedly an effect of the too much news, and hadn’t really wanted to go. The line was long and the boy got antsy and needed to use the potty. I told my wife I would hold the line and she could take him to find a toilet. Within moments of her leaving I realized I had left my cell phone in the car. I had no way to reach her, and she had the car keys. What if I got sick? I wouldn’t be able to get to her. I wouldn’t be able to get into the car. If I fled for a bathroom she wouldn’t be able to find me. Trapped. Trapped. Trapped. I could not force my feet to stay in place. I bolted. I wasn’t quite running but close. Down the corridor I went until I saw the blonde hair and the happy three old bobbing along in tow. And it was over.

I went on with the therapist at length about needing an escape route from most situations. I told him that I had heard of a job that will be coming open. A job that would be the closest thing to perfect for my interest and skill set. A job that would put me back on the water, but have me home at night. Perfect. The first thing I thought of when I found out is what if I get sick on the boats? Can I really do this job? He listened to my story. I was in a bad place Monday. Dealing with this, with the news, and too much time to think about the news as I drive down the road had left me drained. It was hard to put a real thought together, but eventually I got it out. He replied that what he heard me saying is that my world was getting smaller. As people with anxiety go through life without addressing it their world’s gradually become smaller as the anxiety slowly takes more and more from them. You continue to accommodate and develop strategies to function just well enough, but with each accommodation your world gets smaller as the anxiety takes a little more. This describes what has been happening over the past year perfectly. It has accelerated since I withdrew from the klonopin, but I think if I am honest with myself I can see that it was happening even before.

More and more I am being driven by the fear of being sick, and the fear of being trapped somewhere while sick. My rational mind hears how ridiculous this is, but the terror I felt in the mall was all too real. We talked about some CBT strategies we can work with to address this. It was mostly more extinction curve stuff. He gave some baby step exercises to play with until out next meeting. I am scheduled to see the medicine doc in about three weeks, but I may push that up a bit. My walls are definitely closing in, and the room is getting far too small


9 thoughts on “The Walls Are Closing In

  1. I wish I had great words of wisdom for you. Alas, all I can say is that sometimes when we’re in small spaces and the walls are closing in, it’s helpful to know that we’re not in those small spaces alone. I don’t think that you are alone. I remember reading a while ago something you wrote: Nothing makes you feel better than when your wife tells you that it’s going to be okay. Perhaps you can seek solace with her right now and believe for a while that it IS okay. In your small room, it IS okay. We are all as a country grieved to our cores about the tragedy in Newtown. So, as your deep limbic system attempts revolt and take over your body, try to remember that it’s not GOING to be okay. It IS okay. For you. Right now. With your wife and son. Who both love you.

    • I understand and believe all of that when things are calm, but when the panic comes I am blindsided. It is so unpredictable it just happens and is triggered from the most ridiculous situations that I cannot anticipate and prepare. I cant brace myself for it. Rationale thought it just replaced by terror in seconds.

  2. Do you have a plan? An emergency plan for panic attacks? I do. It sounds like that’s what you need, and then these panic attacks would start to become opportunities for practice rather than the Great and Terrible Enemy. When we practice a new thought that is part of the emergency plan, we grow neural connections. Those people in our lives that witness our panic can help us with our plan, remind us what our new words are, and coach us. Ultimately, this is part of what will heal, not meds. Meds stabilize, but they don’t always prevent the panic.

    • I think this is good advice. I am not sure anybody has ever seen me have a panic attack. They don’t often happen in the open like that, and I have always hidden them effectively. Something to think about.

  3. My husband has seen me panic. I often hide mine, too, but a few times I’ve locked myself in the bathroom and refused to come out. I know how utterly irrational I am when I do that, and another part of me is embarrassed. But, he has picked the lock and come in to find me shaking, crying, and sitting in the corner by the tub, hyperventilating. It’s always caused by my perception of being trapped. Not enough money=being trapped=dying. So, he has come in and coached me by asking me questions. “Are you going to die?”….”Are you dying now?”…”Is someone coming to get you?”….”Is he coming for you?”…”Is your mother here?”….”Can she steal all our money? Does she have access to our bank account? Can she steal out money? (she used to do that when I was younger)”….”Have we paid our bills?”…”Do we have food?”….”Will you die?”…”Will the kids die?”…”Are you okay?”….And all those questions engaged my rational mind. He was able to engage me. So, over time, I learned to ask myself those questions. “I’m okay. I’m okay. I’m okay.” And now, when I want to panic, when everything in me starts to freeze up, I am able to talk myself down, but that’s only because of using the other panic episodes as opportunities to practice the plan. This, I have found, has changed how I feel about the panic. They really are opportunities to practice, and my brain has changed because of it.

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